Clustering and classification problems in genetics through U-statistics

Genetic data are frequently categorical and have complex dependence structures that are not always well understood. For this reason, clustering and classification based on genetic data, while highly relevant, are challenging statistical problems. Here we consider a versatile U-statistics-based approach for non-parametric clustering that allows for an unconventional way of solving these problems. In this paper we propose a statistical test to assess group homogeneity taking into account multiple testing issues and a clustering algorithm based on dissimilarities within and between groups that highly speeds up the homogeneity test. We also propose a test to verify classification significance of a sample in one of two groups. We present Monte Carlo simulations that evaluate size and power of the proposed tests under different scenarios. Finally, the methodology is applied to three different genetic data sets: global human genetic diversity, breast tumour gene expression and Dengue virus serotypes. These applications showcase this statistical framework's ability to answer diverse biological questions in the high dimension low sample size scenario while adapting to the specificities of the different datatypes.